Crypto May Be Low, But Some Of Us May Be High

Arsnl Art Presents “Nascent Series” By Ash Thorp.

Gretchen Andrew


Gretchen Andrew


Sep 11, 2023

Crypto May Be Low, But Some Of Us May Be High

Nascent Series consists of fifteen diptychs, five of which are now being offered for sale, and an open-edition NFT theatrical performance centered on Thorp’s “Happiness Pills.” Exclusively available on Sale begins June 27, 2023

When I first started painting I went to the Art Students' League in NYC and my teacher there told me that he thought that acid would help me more than anything. In retrospect, he was definitely right but I remember being a little incensed at him. At the time I felt that having anything consumable be an answer was a dangerous way to start my life as an artist.  ARSNL's latest project by the artist Ash Thorp explores this same relationship where the problem of happiness is less clear than the offered solutions, consumable and possibly chemical.  

I spoke with Matthew Dunnerstick form ARSNL to hear more about Ash Thorp’s collaboration with ARSNL.  Exclusively available on Sale begins June 27, 2023

As you know I have a lot of respect for your team at ARSNL so i'm always curious, how and why did you pick this project?

Summer happiness drugs and dystopian sci-fi beauty.  What’s not to like?

We’ve heard of Ash over the years through his Christie’s sales and close friendship with Beeple.  We started talking at the end of 2022.  We’d just finished our Frank Stella show and we were talking with many artists to line up 2023.

Ash was completing his 15 Nascent diptychs at that time.  When we saw them, it was clear his collection was a masterwork unlike anything out there or anything he’d previously done.  Ash and our team talked of expanding the series to engage his fans in a powerful and meaningful way.  “Happiness Pills: An NFT Theatrical Performance in 4 Acts” emerged from this.

I also like that the intro text calls this, "the chase for happiness," in contrast to Locke's "Pursuit of happiness" that also appears in the American Declaration of Independence.  Using the word 'chase' makes me think that  happiness is consciously exerting to elude us. I'm not sure if I agree with that personally but it's an interesting image, happiness as the Road Runner.   Why this way of looking at it?

Now I have the Modern Lovers stuck in my head: “Roadrunner, roadrunner.  I'm in love with the radio on.”

The chase is better than the catch, isn’t it?  Maybe happiness can only be something you chase. Because once you catch it, you kill it.  Better to observe it and feel it, than to capture its infinite and unnameable potential into restrictive and contradictory words.  The pills and the diptychs have an experiential energy.  Full screen mode, if possible.  Ash has long been a staple in Hollywood, recently making the Batmobile for the latest Batman.  His artworks lend well with a cinematic flair.  Time to put on your Apple Glasses and start happily chasing after these sweeping and majestic video sequences.

That said, we are bombarded with commercials and industries trying to sell us on the idea that happiness is something you can buy, in pill form even, from happiness dealers.  We are sold on the idea that happiness is something you can catch and hold in your hand.  But did we not say catching happiness kills it?  In this way, they are selling death, sadness, lies.

We at ARSNL with Ash are selling you both the pill and the theatrical performance of the pill.  So there’s an inherent contradiction to swallow.  Paraphrasing Whitman here, happiness is vast.  It contains multitudes.

This series opens with the assertions that, "the notion that we can obtain happiness as a mere commodity through purchase and consumption is a misguided pursuit.”  Similarly, the word ‘obtain’ makes happiness a binary condition, you have it or you don’t. There is a tension between the critique of the consumer system and offering this art series as a product within that system. What are some possible ways the collector of these NFTs can enjoy that dual reality? 

I love a good binary.  We need to see the binaries in order to transcend them.

It’s clear that there is a cutting and cynical side to Ash’s artworks: aka, that the machine wants to sell you commodities to make you feel happy (sex, food, social media, money, guns, etc) but–surprise–it doesn’t actually work.  You don’t feel sustainable happiness.  It’s just sugar, empty calories.

However, like any good binary, what equally excites me is realizing there’s a lovely reverse side to something that is clearly cynical.  In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother wrote the party line: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”  Cynical, right?  But if you squint your eyes, and with the right kind of wink, you can take a kind of Zen Buddhist twist on it all.  You’ll see that life is in a state of suffering, in a constant state of war, and in this realization you’ll find peace, because you are no longer inside its turmoil, you are free from it.  Or that the very idea of freedom is what enslaves us, because it makes us dependent on the fantasy of separation.  Or that the recognition of your own ignorance actually helps make stronger choices in life. War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.  It’s both cynical and hopeful.

These are Schrödinger's Happiness Pills.  They exist in both states at the same time.  Only when observed, do we take a side.  Clearly, a digital dopamine-delivering NFT can’t give me true happiness.  Yet, at the same time, how come buying it is so fun?  Why does this NFT Theatre in Four Acts feel so satisfying?  Is the happiness I feel through some digital pill less true than “deep” happiness? Or does trying to “go deep” kill the happy vibe?  Such thoughts continue and race around.  Maybe it’s time we cut the head off and just feel it.  And that feeling is true happiness.

The pills are named with a mix of religious and techno utopian undertones. What is the relationship between these types of saviors in the work?

Much like the binary question above, Ash’s work helps us meditate on the fact that we’ve turned technology into our gods.  False gods. Worshiping a subjective creation of ourselves instead of objective creation.  Yet, it is through these self-creations that we can see a new side of ourselves, along the grace of art, into the infinite… an infinite poetic truth… or an infinite hellish machinescape.  You pick.

Can you overdose? Get addicted? What are the side effects?  Is there utility, programmed or otherwise, associated with this project? 

You cannot overdose literally on these pills, but definitely you can get strung out on them.  Act 1 is the act of buying.  Act 2 is the act of consuming and experiencing the drugs.  In Act 3 we present people with an irreversible choice.  I don’t want to give away some surprises we have in store for our NFT Theatre–but consumers of the pills will be presented with a choice.  You will have to make a decision about your pills.  In doing so, you will make a decision about how you wish to live your life.

For utility, in Act 4, there will be some sweet touches and summaries, one of which I’m excited to share now.  Ash has gifted people the source files.  You will have the rights to remix the pills and make your own happiness pills for personal use.  It’s a chance to think about what happiness means to you.  We are excited to see what people will create.

Christie’s 3.0 and 1OF1 are starting a sale tomorrow called Cartography of the Soul to benefit the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The works in the sale are said to reflect the artists’ own profound experiences with psychedelics.  I personally don’t need to hear or see anyone else’s trip, ever. And luckily for everyone else, I pay a therapist who has to hear about mine.  It’s strange how there is such a gap between seeing something as a primary experience on psychedelics and seeing artwork that looks like something someone saw while on psychedelics.  I’ve always defended that the digital is a primary mode of experience as not a set of pointers or signifiers, but do you think digital experiences could act on the body-mind relationship in a similar way? There is solid research indicating that placebos work even when we know they are placebos.

What’s the saying?  Better to have an interesting lie than a boring truth.  Let’s make it interesting, please.  

I’d buy a good placebo.  Especially a happy one.  And an aesthetically pleasing one to boot.  Just keep in mind, the pills do crack open when owners take a hit of them. They will flash surprise subliminal messages as they open up.  These messages are designed to induce physical hormones such as dopamine into your body.  So there’s real effects here as well, not just placebo

The “bodies” seen in the work are robotic and mechanical in nature.  Are these pills meant to be ingested by machines on which they live? 

That’s the bittersweet irony.  If the automatic side of you habitually swallows a happiness pill, it will reinforce your robotic self, ingesting only the shell and the gears and the tubes.  

But if your human side swallows a happiness pill, ingesting, say, a feeling of universal mystery, perhaps it will decalcify those rusty robotic parts clogging up our veins and help remind us of our deep humanity.

This might sound like a judgment against robots and a judgment for humans.  But I don’t think a robot can ever feel happy, can it?  In feeling happy, you have to realize we are more than bones and chemical reactions.  Even as we ingest our chemical dopamine reactions.

How is“Nascent Series” related to the pill pantheon in the contemporary art world, how do you see this project fitting in? Specifically in relation to Damian Hirst’s pharmacy and Nan Goldin’s activism against Sackler money in contemporary art.  

Ash will be honored to be mentioned in these contexts.  Where Hirst’s Pharmacy takes a physical and experiential mediation on these themes of medicine, and Goldin’s has a political bend, Throp’s is an extension on the commodification of it all–posing the question directly through the one-of-a-kind NFT performance in site-specific theatre–a theatre is your own phone, living room, or digital wallet.  We are very excited to be given the chance to live up to the weight of such beautiful comparisons.

Exclusively available on

Sale begins June 27, 2023.

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